By Megan Erbacher
The Message assistant editor
After more than 15 years of planning and praying, St. Philip Neri Parish in Bicknell celebrated their new parish hall.
On Aug. 29, Bishop Joseph M. Siegel celebrated Mass at St. Philip Neri. Father Tony Ernst, administrator of St. Philip Neri, concelebrated Mass with the bishop.
After Mass, Bishop Siegel, along with Father Tony, Deacon Paul Vonderwell and Matt Miller, director of the Office of Worship, walked behind the church and into the new parish hall. Bishop Siegel then blessed and dedicated the new gathering space, which was filled with parishioners.
Bishop Siegel said the parish hall will be home for activities and a place where St. Philip Neri parishioners will come to know one another and give witness to their faith in Jesus Christ.
During his blessing, Bishop Siegel recalled visiting St. Philip Neri when he was named Bishop of Evansville nearly four years ago, and he heard plans for a new parish hall. He said it is wonderful to return now and see it come to fruition.
Bishop Siegel said the building is something the Lord built through parish sacrifices, commitment and hard work. He said it’s a sign of the parish’s hope and commitment in faith.
Bishop Siegel thanked Father Tony for his work in helping the dream become a reality, and he thanked parishioners for their love for the Lord and love for their parish.
After the blessing and prayer, Bishop Siegel walked throughout the new parish hall and sprinkled holy water.
The building committee, who led the project, consisted of Elaine Pepmeier, Louise Branch, Rusty Stinebaugh, Father Tony and the late Bill Dupire. Pepmeier, a lifelong St. Philip Neri parishioner, believes Dupire would be proud of the finished parish hall.
“It’s pure joy (to see the hall),” she said.
Through the years, Pepmeier said the site and scope of the building changed about four times. In 2017, the property behind the church at 3rd and Vigo streets became available. A group of parishioners bought it and tore down the house and garage that was located on it. In 2019, they donated the property to St. Philip Neri Parish for the parish hall.
In August 2020, the diocesan building committee approved plans for the building. Lamar Architect and Design, LLC of Newburgh was the architect for the parish hall, and Wolfe Construction of Vincennes built it. Construction started in September 2020, and it was completed in May.
Father Tony thanked the Bishop for blessing and dedicating the building. He also thanked the building committee for their hard work and time, especially Elaine Pepmeier.
“She has gone beyond the call of duty. … Perseverance goes a long way,” Father Tony said. “So (all of you) keep persevering, and thank you all for your dedication.”
The new building is about 5,000-square-feet and has a capacity of nearly 200, compared to the basement space which fits 150 people. There’s a large pantry, storage area and a large island in the kitchen. It’s made of Bedford stone and brick to match the current church and rectory, which Pepmeier said was important to the committee.
The basement space, which was previously used for gathering, will be converted into classrooms and a gathering area for the youth group, Pepmeier said.
“We have a beautiful space,” Pepmeier said. “We’re hoping the parish will use it, we hope outside people will use it, and we always continue to dedicate ourselves to the lord and help do outreach to the community.”
After the blessing and dedication, parishioners and guests enjoyed brunch in the new space, followed by a public open house.